On September 11, 1826, a Batavia, New York man named William Morgan was arrested for debt. This was not unusual for the early nineteenth century when people were routinely thrown into debtors’ prison for failure to pay off loans. What makes Morgan’s case notable was the he was a Freemason in a time when the fraternal society held large amounts of influence in the fledgling United States. William Morgan was not, however, a Mason in good standing – in fact, he was persona non grata in the lodge. He had decided to write a tell-all book spilling the secrets of the Freemasons. A publisher based in Batavia had agreed to publish Morgan’s work.
The next day, Morgan’s publisher paid the debt to get the writer out of prison and the two men got into a waiting carriage outside the Canandaigua jail in the Finger Lakes region of New York. What happened next is a matter of open debate, but what is known is that William Morgan was never seen again. Over the years, two unidentified bodies have been tied to Morgan’s disappearance – one found in Lake Ontario and another found in a Genesee County quarry. What seems certain is that Morgan was killed upon his release from debtors’ prison, most likely by fellow Freemasons who wanted to keep the renegade’s story from being published. Mason’s murder led to an outcry against the Masons that led to a powerful anti-Masonic political movement across the United States that saw a dramatic weakening in the brotherhood’s influence.
Featured Image: “William Morgan.” By A. Cooley – The Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon: William Morgan notes: here, Public Domain.
Image 1. “The Assassination of William Morgan.” By Gravure dessinée par Pierre Méjanel et gravée par François Pannemaker. – Léo Taxil, Les Mystères de la Franc-Maçonnerie, Paris, 1886., Public Domain.
During the summer of 1977, the Joe Boys gang on Chinatown, San Francisco had a rough time of it. One their biggest annual money-makers, the sale of illegal fireworks before the Independence Day July 4th holiday, had been stymied by a rival – the Wah Ching gang. In fact, during the disputes that had happened that summer, one member of the Joe Boys had been killed in a shootout with the Wah Ching.
In revenge for this rough summer, the Joe Boys arrived at the Golden Dragon restaurant in Chinatown on a tip that Michael Louie, head of Wah Ching was eating there. Three members of the Joe Boys barged into the eatery and sprayed the place with shotgun and semi-automatic fire. Louie and the few Wah Ching members at the Golden Dragon escaped out the back door, while five innocent bystanders were killed and 11 were injured. The shooters were eventually apprehended and served long prison sentences for murder.
Early in the morning on August 29, 1991, on the quiet streets of Palermo, Sicily the owner of a local lingerie manufacturer was gunned down in cold blood. Libero Grassi owned a business that employed about 100 people and was a pillar of the local community in Palermo. As his business grew, Grassi came to the attention of local organized crime, the notorious Mafia. The Sicilian Mob came knocking on Grassi’s door and demanded pizzo, protection money. Paying this sum to avoid trouble with the Mafia had been the local tradition, but Grassi was having none of it. He refused to pay. Not only that, he made his struggle with the “nonexistent” organization public. Grassi wrote to Italian newspapers about his experience and told the police about his encounters. Not long after he started publicizing the shakedown, Grassi was killed by Salvatore Madonia, son of Mafia Boss Francesco Madonia, the head of the Resuttana family. Both men were convicted in 2006 after Grassi’s death turned him into a hero in the anti-Mafia movement in Sicily and encouraged other business owners to stand up to the Mafia.
Featured Image: “Libero Grassi.” By unknown – Libero Grassi e Tano Grasso.
Source: Salerno, Vincenzo. “Remembering Libero Grassi.” Best of Sicily Magazine.
On August 26, 1980, an IBM photocopier was delivered to the Harvey’s Resort and Casino in Stateline, Nevada on the shores of Lake Tahoe. That’s it!
Just kidding. This was not ordinary photocopier – and it wasn’t actually ordered by Harvey’s Casino. The copier delivered on that morning caused some confusion in the casino and after the deliverymen left, management inspected the unexpected machine. Inside the machine, they found a note to the bomb squad saying that this was actually a non-defusable bomb with multiple fail-safes that would not even allow the machine to be moved further. Casino management called in the police and the FBI bomb squad arrived and evacuated the building. The bomb was among the biggest the FBI had ever seen in its long history. The detailed ransom note demanded $3 million to be paid in unmarked $100 bills in exchange for the instructions about how to move the device so the authorities could do a controlled explosion. Authorities x-rayed the machine and developed a plan of action, however their attempts to defuse the bomb failed causing a large explosion that caused extensive damage to the Harvey’s Casino. Thankfully, no one was killed or even injured thanks to the earlier evacuation. The creator of the bomb was soon discovered to be 59-year old John Birges, Sr. who had built the bomb out of anger at a massive gambling debt he had amassed at Harvey’s. Birges was convicted and died in a Nevada prison in 1996.
On August 23, 1973, Jan Erik Olsson of Stockholm Sweden entered the Kreditbanken in the Norrmalmstorg Square in the center of the city. Brandishing a sub-machine gun, he took four bank employees hostage and demanded 3 million Swedish crowns (about $730,000) and the release of a friend from prison. The hostage situation devolved into a 6 day standoff with Swedish authorities, during which Olsson and his hostages underwent a strange bonding experience. The hostages started identifying with their captor and vice versa. On top of that, all involved – hostages and kidnapper alike – took on a hostile “Us vs. Them” view of the outside world that was trying to hurt them. This feeling was heightened by the presence of armed police and hostage negotiators outside of the bank. Nor was this just a passing emotion – indeed, Olsson’s victims visited him during his ten-year prison sentence. This strange and seemingly counter-intuitive reaction to such a stressful and traumatic experience has come to be known as Stockholm Syndrome – a mainstay of TV crime dramas.
Featured Image: “Kreditbanken in the Norrmalmstorg.” By Tage Olsin – Own work (Photo taken by me), CC BY-SA 2.0.
On August 21, 1911, a very low-tech and unsophisticated art heist of a popularly obscure painting (at the time) from the Louvre. On that Monday morning, three men rushed out of the museum having been hidden all night. With them, they carried Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa! At the time, the Mona Lisa was little known outside the artistic community. In fact, it was so little known that it was not noticed as missing for over 24 hours after it walked out the front door. The brazen nature of the crime shocked the world and the Mona Lisa became a household name almost overnight.
Suspicion initially fell on prominent members of the art community – both artists and collectors alike. In particular, both banking magnate J.P. Morgan and renowned artist Pablo Picasso were questioned about perhaps hiring thieves to bring the da Vinci masterpiece into their private collections. In fact, the actual thief was one of the three men there that night – Vincenzo Perugia, a handyman who worked for the Louvre and had helped to install the glass box that protected the painting. Perugia meant to sell the painting immediately, but the press coverage was much more than he expected and, as such, the Mona Lisa was “too hot.”
Perugia hid his prize in a false bottom of a trunk in his Paris apartment. In late 1913, Perugia decided it would now be alright to try to sell the painting and brought it to an art dealer in Florence, Italy. The dealer looked over the painting and called the authorities who promptly arrested Perugia. The thief claimed patriotic motives for stealing the Mona Lisa saying that he was returning it to its Italian homeland after it had been stolen by Napoleon Bonaparte. In fact, the Mona Lisa’s residence in France long predated Napoleon – it was purchased by the Sun King, Louis XIV who added it to his amazing collection at his palace at Versailles. After Perugia’s arrest, the Mona Lisa was returned to its gallery in the Louvre on January 4, 1914.
Featured Image: “Mona Lisa.” By C2RMF: Galerie de tableaux en très haute définition: image page – Cropped and relevelled from File:Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, from C2RMF.jpg. Originally C2RMF: Galerie de tableaux en très haute définition: image page, Public Domain.
Image 1. “Mona Lisa Stolen.” By Unknown – “The Two Mona Lisas” by Walter Littlefield, article from Century Magazine, Vol. 87, N° 4 (Feb 1914). Published by The Century CompanyDirect link to article, Public Domain.
On August 19, 1895 one of the most notorious gunmen from the old “Wild West” met his end as he was gunned downed by an assassin in a saloon in El Paso, Texas. John Wesley Hardin claimed a long line of murders across the states of Texas, Kansas, Alabama, and perhaps others from 1867 – 1877 – when he was between 15 and 25 years old. In this decade of violence, Hardin claimed to have committed some 42 murders, though “only” 27 can be firmly attributed to him. In 1877, Hardin was arrested in Pensacola, Florida by the Texas Rangers and brought back to Texas to stand trial on murder charges related to the death of Charles Webb, a Brown County sheriff. Hardin was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Hardin served 17 years of his sentence before being paroled at which point he passed the bar and attempted to reform his life – becoming a lawyer! What a different world the 19th century world USA was! Imagine a convicted cop killer becoming a sworn officer of the legal system today. Hardin successfully avoided violent crime, though he did develop a penchant for sleeping with wives of his clients. One of these men, Martin Morose did not take kindly to this development and hired assassins to kill the philandering ex-gunman. One of these hired hands, Constable John Selman, found Hardin in the Acme Saloon in El Paso and put an end to one of the most dangerous gunmen in the history of Texas.
Featured Image: “John Wesley Hardin.” By The original uploader was Shauri at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Yarl using CommonsHelper., Public Domain.
Sources: “John Wesley Hardin.” Texas State Historical Association.